The end of the year is drawing near again and it’s time once again to begin thinking about those dreaded year-end employee performance evaluations. These meetings, usually accompanied by some kind of documentation, are a kind of report card for employees—a chance for managers to assess the performance of their workforce, and a chance for employees to learn how they are doing in the eyes of their employer.
The problem with employee performance reviews is two-fold. First, an employee should not have to wait until the end of the year to find out how they are doing. This kind of communication should happen throughout the year so the employee and the employer can constantly adjust their strategies based on mutual feedback.
The second problem with employee evaluations is that they are predominantly negative. Even for an employee that does 90% of their job perfectly, when they get into that review meeting chances are that both the boss and the worker will want to discuss the 10% that’s not going well. Many employers see the primary purpose of the review process as a means to document and eventually weed out poor performance or as a way to help employees shore up their weaknesses.
And even the employee is likely to zone out during the parts of the review covering their strengths. They really want to know “What do I need to fix?” Or, “What does my boss think I’m doing wrong?” So these become the parts of the review that lead to lengthy discussions.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are ten tips to flip the employee evaluation process on its head and make it a more positive experience for both the employer and the employee:
1. Make it more of a mutual collaboration. Rather than a typical hierarchical review where the boss tells the worker what they are doing right or wrong, try a collaborative approach where both sides express their goals and how the other person can help those goals be met. (See my prior article on “The Social Contract at Work.”)
2. Create a deliberate positive component. Consultant Lisa Sansom suggests consciously planning to cover the positive side of the story. What was the best thing the employee did that year? Do you have as detailed an analysis on their strengths as you do on their weaknesses?
3. Focus on the future. Positive psychologist Robert Biswas-Diener says most feedback discussions go wrong by focusing on what is wrong with the present as opposed to making it a more positive discussion about what the desired future state is.
4. Gather appreciative stories. Consultant Louisa Jewell feels evaluation time is a good opportunity to gather appreciative stories about the core values of the business. Interviewing employees about a time when they were at their best, or when they felt most aligned with their job, not only gives a foundation of strengths that can then be amplified and built upon, but incredible stories can be collected that then become woven into the tapestry of the organization’s culture and values.
5. Not feedback, feedforward. Leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith also suggests letting go of the past and focusing on the path forward. If you’ve gathered stories of the employees at their best, the next question is to ask if the path they are on is leading towards more or less examples of that in the future. See this guide on “The Feedforward Interview.”)
6. Be descriptive, not evaluative. Kim Cameron from the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship and the author of Positive Leadership suggests that providing an evaluation of someone’s negative performance will only cause a defensive reaction and will not motivate the desired positive change. An effective evaluation of negative performance will objectively describe the situation without making judgments or evaluations, describe the consequences of the behavior (which can include how it makes the boss feel,) and create a plan to get to the desired future behavior in a helpful, supportive way.
7. Believe in the project. Another tip from Robert Biswas-Diener is that the feedback process is a chance for the employer to show a personal vested interest in the success of the employee. Feedback is better received when it comes from someone who believes in the individual and wants to help them succeed.
8. Review, reflect, then discuss. Most employees see their review for the first time during the meeting with their manager. This is when stress levels are highest and the negativity bias at its most sensitive. Give any written documentation to the employee beforehand, perhaps suggesting some pre-work that encourages them to reflect on both their strengths and their weaknesses. Then schedule a meeting to discuss. Reading a report to a worker is a waste of everyone’s time. Use the report as a launch pad and make it a great conversation.
9. Do a monthly “5-15” rather than an annual review. This was another suggestion from Louisa Jewell. Each month, employees take 15 minutes to write down a few brief notes on their greatest accomplishments of the month and then spend 5 minutes reviewing them with the boss (one on one.) At the end of the year, both the boss and the employee can review the year’s 5-15s and they will have a great foundation for a positive discussion about accomplishments.
10. Scrap the review altogether. Tara Parker Pope cites several experts discussing the destructive nature of employee reviews. Reviews are incredible sources of stress in the workplace, prone to bias, error and even intentional abuse. Reviews are just one more thing that make people hate their bosses. Maybe doing away with it is the best way forward.
Get into a discussion about employee performance reviews and people quickly agree that they are not enjoyable and don’t do much to motivate performance. And yet, very few businesses depart from this culturally ingrained practice. This year, think about changing things up and making it a more positive and impactful experience for everyone. If you have been doing something new, or will try something different this year, I’d love to hear about it.